Saturday, November 18, 2017
Politics

Former St. Petersburg council member Bob Kersteen dies

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ST. PETERSBURG — Former City Council member Bob Kersteen, who most recently served on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, died of cardiac arrest early Saturday. He was 75.

Mr. Kersteen's son, Craig Kersteen, 41, said the two were attending the Under Armour All-America high school football game at Tropicana Field on Friday night when Mr. Kersteen complained of feeling light-headed.

They left the game during the fourth quarter to head home, but then later went to St. Petersburg General Hospital. Mr. Kersteen died there about 12:15 a.m. Saturday surrounded by his family, his son said.

Mr. Kersteen, a Republican who served on the St. Petersburg City Council from 1995 to 2001, got his first taste of politics while heading GTE's land development division, where he oversaw numerous deals for cell phone tower sites. Mr. Kersteen worked for GTE Corp., formerly called General Telephone & Electronics Corp., for 32 years.

"He just wanted to get involved in the community, starting at the grass-roots level," said Craig Kersteen, who lives in Westchase.

He described his father as fiscally conservative and at times passionate about health care and environmental causes, such as the protection of the Weedon Island State Preserve, which is south of the Gandy Bridge.

Mr. Kersteen, a lawyer, was a skilled communicator and at times could make strong arguments — but not in the volatile, combative nature of some politicians today, he said.

"He was able to talk to people even with totally opposing viewpoints," Kersteen said. "He could disagree with them, but he could talk to them rationally and be nice to the person."

Mr. Kersteen resigned from the City Council in 2001 to run for the state House District 53 seat, but lost to Charlie Justice.

In 2002, he was appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. He served until his death.

Kersteen said his father loved the Tampa Bay area and serving on the planning council because it took a long-range view on issues. "He was a visionary in that way," he said.

Recently, Mr. Kersteen tried to mount a political comeback. After an unsuccessful run for City Council in 2007, he ran again in 2011. He won the primary, but was beaten by newcomer Charlie Gerdes in the general election, despite the endorsement of Mayor Bill Foster.

Mr. Kersteen mentored Foster when Foster joined the council in 1998. The mayor learned of Kersteen's death early Saturday.

Foster was to address a men's group at the First Presbyterian Church, 701 Beach Drive NE, and Mr. Kersteen was supposed to introduce him. When Mr. Kersteen didn't show, Foster called and learned that he had died.

"It was a shock for me," he said.

He recalled Mr. Kersteen as "an old-school statesman" who could be "tight with the people's money" and "a responsible steward." At the same time, he had a soft spot for his constituents.

"He was tight," the mayor said, laughing. "His favorite saying was, 'If it was free, it was for me.' "

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, whose father, David, served with Mr. Kersteen in the late 1990s, described him as "an elder statesman" who often read from written remarks when making an important point.

"He had a way of making his case and laying it out there, and most times he'd have it written down. He'd make a case and stick with it," Welch said. "He'd say it and usually there wasn't too much argument."

Mr. Kersteen is survived by his wife of 48 years, Judith; brothers, Harold and Richard; daughter, Marla; son, Craig; and three grandchildren.

He was born in Kingston, Pa., to Herman and Marion Kersteen. He obtained degrees in business and law from LaSalle University. He moved to Saint Petersburg in 1962 to work for GTE.

A memorial service is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Our Savior Lutheran Church, 301 58th St. S in St. Petersburg.

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